By Mo Khan
Arturo Lupoli hit a hat-trick as Arsenal went top of the table by beating 10-man Ipswich Town 4-2 at Portman Road on Monday night.
The Italian's treble even stole the limelight from England centre back Sol Campbell, who continued his comeback from a calf injury by coming through another 90 minutes.
Lupoli put the visitors 3-0 ahead and Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner added a fourth with almost the last kick of the game after Ipswich's own strike prodigy, Dean Bowditch, had bagged a quick-fire brace to reduce the home side's deficit to just a goal in the final 10 minutes.
For the second game running, Arsenal's opponents had a player sent off in the early exchanges. Just 11 minutes in, Bendtner was upended by Aidan Collins in the Ipswich penalty area as he bore down on goal. The referee had no choice but to point to the spot and brandished a red card for the defender. Lupoli stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way, firing low into the bottom right-hand corner.
Arsenal may already been a goal to the good prior to the Ipswich dismissal with Lupoli going close after four minutes. Bendtner was released by Mathieu Flamini and he fed Lupoli, who forced Shane Supple to make a save in the Ipswich goal.
To their credit the home side refused to lie down with the trickery and pace of No 10 Dean McDonald causing problems to the Arsenal rearguard.
But Neil Banfield's team dominated possession and played some scintillating football at times. Just after the quarter-hour, the visitors broke from deep inside their own half and the speedy Ryan Smith played a perfectly weighted first-time ball into Lupoli's path. The former Parma youngster forced a corner out of Supple.
Bendtner was booked for a challenge on Kevin Horlock on 23 minutes before Campbell found himself on the end of a pass across the box by Patrick Cregg, but the big centre-half got underneath it and his shot flew over the top.
Arsenal doubled their lead on 36 minutes with the goal of the game. Campbell won back possession with a clever interception and immediately found Bendtner who had drifted to the left. He picked out Lupoli on the edge of the box and he completed a wonderful finish into the bottom corner after his first touch had taken him neatly away from his marker.
The second half was a much quieter affair as Arsenal took their foot off the pedal somewhat and Banfield rested a couple of his stars. But Lupoli was not going anywhere without the match ball and his third arrived seven minutes after the restart.
Smith found the Italian inside the area and he fired across the keeper into the far corner. With the game all but over, Banfield rang the changes. Fabrice Muamba replaced Sean Kelly at right back then Shane Tracey took over from Garry at left back. It was the young defender's second 60-minute outing in a week after spending two years three months on the sidelines with shin injuries.
Lupoli was withdrawn 18 minutes from the end to a standing ovation as Republic of Ireland youth international Anthony Stokes came on to replace him.
Arsenal then lost concentration and allowed Ipswich back into the game - albeit very briefly. First, Jaime Peters fired in a low right-wing cross and Bowditch evaded his marker to tap in form a yard out. His second finish was rather more difficult, as he spun and hooked home a half-volley following a parry by Michael Jordan in the Arsenal goal.
However, the three points were secured immediately after restart to send Arsenal top of the Premiership Reserve League South. The visitors caught the Ipswich defence napping and Bendtner waltzed through to round Supple and settle the game.
McEveley challenges Flamini
Lupoli celebrates his third goal
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- Garry 62
- Kelly 57
- Bendtner Goal! Yellow Card
- Lupoli 72 Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Muamba 57
- Tracy 62
- Stokes 72